David Collyer wins the RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year award

by Christopher Osborne.

David Collyer wins the RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year award for his images taken inside an NHS hospital.

David Collyer has just won the RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year award for his images on hospital life in a Welsh hospital during lockdown last year.

David who is an Operating Department Practitioner at Abergavenny’s Nevill Hall hospital had discussed making a series of images about the workplace before Covid. The hospital was scheduled to lose its Emergency Department and acute surgical and medical care with the opening of a new hospital nearby. His manager was supportive of the idea.

Then Covid came. “Everything was very uncertain. It seemed apocalyptic. None of us knew what trajectory this virus was going to take” recalls David.

He began shooting his colleagues at work. “I was simply recording what was happening. I expected it to be for local consumption. I had no idea that this series would grow legs”, reflects David. “I only realised the magnitude of what I had done when I was in the front of The Guardian, and photojournalist Tom Stoddart tweeted about it”.

“I recorded what it was like. Teams of Theatre healthcare professionals bond quickly. They see pretty harrowing things. As you would expect, there is a lot of dark humour. It is a coping mechanism. I captured the elation, humour and extreme tiredness of my colleagues. Sometimes they took the camera and photographed me. It somehow helped us get through”.

At the time the Government was politicising the efforts of the staff of the NHS (National Health Service). “I did not feel comfortable with this. We are professionals who are paid to do a job. I wanted to capture what was happening from the inside, and not be part of an NHS Heroes rhetoric”, David reflects.

David used an Olympus XA3 compact camera and pushed Tri-X and HP5 to between 800 and 1600 ISO. I would go home and develop film most nights. The images were edited in Lightroom and then in Silver Efex Pro. “With hindsight, my processing on some images could have been better, but that’s life. Recently I have printed some in the darkroom for the RPS to exhibit, and they look much better”, he says.

We talked about how he sees the work over 18 months later. “When the book was first printed I looked at it quite a bit. I am the harshest critic of my own work. I put it down for a while, but since winning this award, I have been looking at it again. I believe that it is the best body of work that I could have made. People ask me if I am going to do a Covid follow up piece, however, I think the strength of the project was that it was finite, and said what I wanted to in around a hundred images. To do it again would just be milking it”, says David.

We talked about what winning the award has meant to David. “Well, firstly some of the images will be on a permanent exhibition tour for a year. I am given a free RPS membership subscription for a year, and they will help publicise my work. And, I will receive a Fuji X100V. Apparently, that is a digital camera”.

And of course, it has opened doors. In January David will start shooting a project for Cancer Research Wales. This is a subject close to David’s heart. He has recently had another clear check after being treated for cancer of the bladder.

The public is often scared of talking about cancer and scared of talking to cancer patients, not knowing what to say. The project aims to show cancer patients as rounded people, not just patients defined by a diagnosis. The project will be used in publicity by CRW and potentially help to reshape cancer policy in the Senedd, the seat of the Welsh Government.

The next challenge of course is to keep producing work that matches or exceeds the quality of what I’ve previously made.

You can see more of David Collyer’s work on Instagram at @david_collyer_photographer and on Twitter @nedsoldman

Images © David Collyer 2021.

If you would like to read more about David Collyer then see https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/01/david-collyer-what-makes-me-click/

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